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The former kingdom of Nepal, now officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, is a land-locked country in Asia and one of the most mountainous on the planet. It is located in the central Himalayas, and of the world’s ten highest mountains eight are in Nepal! This land was cut off from the outside world for many decades after the Second World War. But now it has opened up its boundaries to travelers, and it offers birders the opportunity to experience the immensity of birding the world’s highest mountain range without the high costs and visa restrictions associated with visiting Bhutan.
Nepal boasts a spectacular diversity of habitats, from the lush lowlands of the Terai (“moist land”), conserved in the famous Chitwan National Park, to the top of Mount Everest! This remarkable heterogeneity of different habitats in such a small country means that Nepal boasts a bird list of over 850 species in a country less than half the size of Germany (i.e. a similar size to Arkansas).
Our itinerary is designed to maximize your exposure to the different habitats and birds Nepal has to offer, without trekking on foot for days into the higher Himalayas. Some of the many exiting avian possibilities include Ibisbill, Bengal and Lesser Floricans, Swamp Francolin, Lesser Adjutant, Sarus Crane, Black-bellied Tern, White-tailed Stonechat, Himalayan Rubythroat, Wallcreeper,Indian and Bristled Grassbirds, Nepal Fulvetta, Himalayan Cutia, and Tibetan Serin, along with a potentially huge list of raptors, forktails, woodpeckers, thrushes, chats, and laughingthrushes. We will also look for the sole Nepalese endemic, Spiny Babbler. Non-avian highlights could include Indian Rhinoceros, Bengal Tiger, Ganges River Dolphin, Asian Elephant, Indian Leopard (Panthera pardus fusca), Fishing Cat, and Wild Water Buffalo.
Throw together some amazing wildlife, very nice food, incredibly friendly people, highly interesting culture, and some of the best scenery on the planet, and a great tour will be had.
If you’d like to extend your birding in this part of Asia, you could join our Bhutan: Spring in the Eastern Himalayas tour, which follows directly after this Nepal tour. The Bhutan tour will provide some amazing mountain birding for many incredible species including Ward’s Trogon, Beautiful Nuthatch, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Satyr Tragopan, and Himalayan Monal and will act as a perfect complement to the Nepal tour.
Itinerary (13 days/12 nights)
Day 1: Arrival in Kathmandu
Depending on your arrival time at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu you may be able to take an optional city tour of this ancient and fabled city (you could also arrive a day or two earlier if you wish to fully explore the city). Kathmandu boasts some of the most impressive Buddhist temples on the planet, and Buddha himself was actually born in Nepal. If you take this optional city tour you will have an opportunity to visit some of these impressive sites, including the inspiring Swayambhunath temple complex, which sits high atop a hill in the city and offers exquisite views across the Kathmandu valley and onto the high Himalayas. The temple grounds are frequented by naughty troops of Rhesus Macaques, so watch over your belongings! Those arriving later in the day or not interested in the city tour will be met and transferred to our hotel in the city with the rest of the day at leisure. We will meet for a group dinner in the evening.
Days 2 – 3: Shivapuri Nagarjun, Phulchowki, and Godavari
We will have two days birding within and around the Kathmandu valley as we acclimatize to the area from our base in Kathmandu. We will spend time birding around Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park, Phulchowki, the highest of the hills surrounding the Kathmandu area (2,800 meters/9185 feet), and the nearby Godavari Botanical Garden. All are beautiful spots with luscious gardens and forests, The Shivapuri Nagarjun and Phulchowki areas provide us with an opportunity to see a wide diversity of central Himalayan mountain specialties and some fantastic and classic Himalayan views. The highly enigmatic and colorful Himalayan Cutia is one of our main targets over these two days, but with luck we may also find Golden-naped Finch, Tibetan Serin, Maroon-backed Accentor, or the rare and local endemic Spiny Babbler.
Other species that we will search for include the aptly named Hoary-throated Barwing, the kaleidoscopic Bar-throated Minla, and the dazzling Scarlet Minivet. Laughingthrushes abound, with Striated, Streaked, Grey-sided, Rufous-chinned, Chestnut-crowned and White-throated Laughingthrushes all possible. Other Himalayan specialties include Darjeeling Woodpecker, Rufous-breasted Accentor, Rufous-vented, Stripe-throated, and Whiskered Yuhinas, White-tailed Nuthatch, Nepal, White-browed, and Rufous-winged Fulvettas, and a host of warblers, which includes the colorful Chestnut-crowned, Black-faced, and Ashy-throated Warblers. Barbets are numerous and include Great and Golden-throated Barbets, and with some luck and patience we may get good views of the remarkable Chestnut-headed Tesia or the skulking White-browed Shortwing, while flowering trees may attract Fire-tailed, Green-tailed, and Black-throated Sunbirds. We will also keep our eyes firmly peeled on any shady watercourses for the stunning Spotted Forktail and Blue Whistling Thrush.
In the Godavari Botanical Garden we can often find Asian Barred Owlet, Black-chinned Babbler, Small and Rufous-bellied Niltavas, Grey-backed Shrike, Blue-fronted Redstart, Grey Treepie, Scaly Thrush, and Grey Bush Chat.
There are so many birds for us to look for here across the range of elevations, such as Kalij Pheasant, Speckled Piculet, Rufous-bellied and Bay Woodpeckers, White-collared and Grey-winged Blackbirds, Chestnut Thrush, Hodgson’s Redstart, Golden Bush Robin, Black-throated Parrotbill, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Red-billed Leiothrix, Rufous Sibia, Maroon Oriole, Scaly-breasted Wren-Babbler, and Red-billed Blue Magpie. There will certainly be some magnificent birds to enjoy during our time here.
Overnight: Kathmandu (two nights)
Day 4: Flight to Biratnagar, drive to Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve
Today we will fly to Biratnagar in the southeast of Nepal, and we’ll keep an eye out for Mount Everest on the way. Once landed we will immediately travel across to the nearby Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve. This reserve is situated in the eastern Terai of Nepal and protects an extensive area of wetlands and grassland along the floodplains of the Saptakoshi River. Koshi Tappu was declared a Ramsar site in 1976 and is home to the last surviving population of Wild Water Buffalo in the country. We will start birding as soon as possible and target some of the birds listed below.
Overnight: Koshi Tappu
Day 5: Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve
The exciting wetlands, grasslands, and scrublands around Koshi Tappu are home to an impressive array of species. The reeds of the wetland habitats hold species such as Cinnamon and Black Bitterns, Ruddy-breasted Crake, and Greater Painted-snipe. The threatened Swamp Francolin may be seen scuttling through the tall grasslands, and here we will also look for White-tailed Stonechat, Striated Grassbird, Citrine Wagtail, and Rosy Pipit, among many others, which include the blood-red Red Avadavat, the spectacular Siberian Rubythroat, and Rufous-vented Grass Babbler (the only location for its endemic Nepalese subspecies). Impressive numbers of waterfowl on the nearby Kosi barrage may include the striking Falcated Duck as well as Ferruginous Duck among the commoner species. Both Black-bellied and River Terns also occur.
Other wetland species include Spot-billed Pelican, Bar-headed Goose, Lesser Adjutant, and Asian Openbill, as well as the highly attractive Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas. The less-vegetated parts of the floodplain hold the subtly but exquisitely marked Small Pratincole, Sand Lark, Bengal Bush Lark, Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark, and River Lapwing. Koshi also provides feeding terrain for a host of birds of prey, including Red-necked Falcon, Pied and Pallid Harriers, White-rumped Vulture, Pallas’s Fish Eagle, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Greater Spotted Eagle, and White-eyed and Long-legged Buzzards.
This wildlife reserve also provides opportunities for a host of exciting wildlife sightings, which may include Gharial, Fishing Cat, Jungle Cat, Nilgai, and the increasingly rare Ganges River Dolphin.
Overnight: Koshi Tappu
Day 6: Travel between Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve and Chitwan National Park
This will essentially be a travel day, as we drive through some beautiful landscapes for the full day between Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve and Chitwan National Park. We will break up the long journey along the way by looking for the highly sought, stunning, and unique Ibisbill, sure to be a trip highlight. While looking for the Ibisbill we may also find Wallcreeper, White-capped and Plumbeous Water Redstarts, Spotted and Little Forktails, and Brown Dipper among the huge boulders along the rivers.
Days 7 – 8: Chitwan National Park
Chitwan is Nepal’s oldest national park, and it conserves the largest tract of threatened lowland Terai grasslands and subtropical forests dominated by sal trees (Shorea robusta) in Nepal. The increasingly scarce Bengal Florican is one of our key targets here, and with luck we may sight this species. With a touch of additional luck we may just enjoy visuals of a male doing its spectacular display. Chitwan is home to a wide variety of other forest and grassland specialties. These include species like Indian and Bristled Grassbirds and Jerdon’s and Slender-billed Babblers (the best place on the Indian subcontinent for this species), White-tailed Stonechat, Black-breasted Weaver, Barred Buttonquail, Rosy Pipit, and the hulking Lesser Adjutant. We will also have to be on the lookout for the skulking, yet breathtakingly beautiful Himalayan Rubythroat as we make our way around suitable scrub habitat.
The sal forests and forest edges are home to a plethora of exciting specials, including a diversity that ranges from the tiny White-browed Piculet to the sizeable and noisy Red Junglefowl and Indian Peafowl. The forest edge provides a great location from which to spot the strikingly large and colorful Great Hornbill as well as Red-headed Trogon, Green-billed Malkoha, and the spectacular Common Green Magpie. Visitors to Chitwan are typically impressed by the abundance and diversity of amazingly colored woodpeckers, which include Himalayan, Greater, and Black-rumped Flamebacks as well as both Lesser and Greater Yellownapes among a host of others (see below). We may also find the vociferous Greater Necklaced and Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes as they move through the woodland in large and marauding flocks. Other birds that we will be on the lookout for in the woodlands here include Slaty-headed and Red-breasted Parakeets, Fulvous-breasted, Streak-throated, and Grey-headed Woodpeckers, Black-backed Forktail, Orange-bellied and Golden-fronted Leafbirds, Ashy Bulbul, Yellow-eyed Babbler, Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Blue-eared Kingfisher, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, and Sultan Tit.
Chitwan is a raptor mecca, and during our visit we may encounter the boldly marked Crested Serpent Eagle, the petite Collared Falconet, and the striking Black Baza, Mountain Hawk-Eagle, and Grey-headed Fish Eagle. As dusk approaches our owl sightings may include Brown Fish Owl, Brown Wood Owl, and Brown Hawk-Owl, as well as the smaller Jungle Owlet and Oriental Scops Owl.
In Chitwan we will not only be searching for birds, because Chitwan is also home to most of Nepal’s remaining Indian Rhinoceros and Bengal Tigers, both amazing and much-sought creatures. Chitwan also hosts two species of crocodiles – the Mugger and the Gharial – and plenty of other great mammals such as Indian Leopard, Sloth Bear, Asian Elephant, Chinese Pangolin, Golden Jackal, and Gaur. These all combine to make this a great place.
Overnight: Chitwan (two nights)
Day 9: Travel between Chitwan National Park and Bardia National Park
Facing essentially a travel day we reluctantly leave Chitwan National Park and commence our journey to Bardia National Park in the southwest of the country. Bardia is the largest lowland sanctuary and most undisturbed wilderness area of Terai and we’ll check into our accommodation for the next few nights.
Days 10 – 11: Bardia National Park
We will have two full days to explore the grasslands and woodlands of this huge national park and its buffer zones, where we will hope to find many exciting species, floricans being very high on the wish list. Both Bengal and Lesser Floricans occur here, though the former is uncommon and the latter is rare. A huge number and wide range of species are possible here, with other high-quality birds we could find during our time here possibly including Sarus Crane, Swamp Francolin, Sirkeer Malkoha, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Lesser Adjutant, Black, Painted, and Black-necked Storks, Red-naped Ibis, Oriental Darter, Indian Courser, Black-bellied Tern, Dusky Eagle-Owl, Red-headed, White-rumped, and Slender-billed Vultures, Indian Spotted Eagle, Great Hornbill, Great Slaty, White-naped, and Yellow-crowned Woodpeckers, Maroon Oriole, Short-billed, Rosy, and Small Minivets, Black-headed Jay, Bengal Bush Lark, Tawny-bellied Babbler, Striated Babbler, Chestnut-tailed and Brahminy Starlings, Grey-winged Blackbird, Tickell’s Thrush, Slaty-backed Forktail, Blue-capped Rock Thrush, and White-tailed Stonechat.
The wide range of habitats here also provides excellent opportunities for finding some interesting reptiles and mammals, the three big targets here being Indian Rhinoceros, Bengal Tiger, and Ganges River Dolphin. Other non-avian highlights might include Gharial, Mugger, Asian Elephant, and Swamp Deer.
Overnight: Bardia (two nights)
Day 12: Travel between Bardia National Park and Nepalgunj, flight to Kathmandu
We will leave the Bardia National Park area and drive to Nepalgunj, where we will catch a flight back to Kathmandu for the final group evening meal of the tour.
Day 13: Departure from Kathmandu, tour concludes
The tour concludes with your international departure from Kathmandu.
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors.
I had an awesome two weeks’ trip in northern India in January 2016 with Andy Walker of Birding Ecotours. Total bird species seen by the group was 401. Highly recommended for life birds, “collecting” bird families and beautiful scenery. Some highlights included: Hill Partridge, Painted Spurfowl, Koklass and Cheer Pheasants, Black Bittern, Himalayan Vulture, Sarus Crane, Barred Buttonquail, Ibisbill, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Indian Courser, Painted Sandgrouse, Sirkeer Malkoha, Crested Treeswift, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Himalayan Flameback, Collared Falconet with prey (Cinereous Tit), Chestnut-headed Tesia, Striated Laughingthrush, White-rumped Shama, White-tailed Rubythroat, Golden Bush Robin, Brown Dipper, Pink-browed Rosefinch, Crested Bunting and Altai Accentor. The group total also included 10 owls and 17 woodpeckers, all seen.
Lisl van Deventer — Pretoria, South Africa